In Support of Rabbi Rick Jacobs

[Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the designated new president of the Reform synagogue movement (URJ), has recently been under attack in ads and opeds due to board positions he holds in other organizations. Here is a letter of support from communal leaders.]

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, is a visionary rabbi, a dynamic leader, a true ohev’ Yisrael, a communal activist on Israel’s behalf, a passionate supporter of Israel.

Some of us have known Rabbi Jacobs for years, calling him our friend and our Rabbi; others of us write out of concern for the public discourse in the Jewish community. Suffice it to say that Rabbi Jacobs’ dedication to Medinat Yisrael and Am Yisrael is unquestioned by this group, and by the thousands of congregants he has instilled over the years with the same deep love of Israel that he himself possesses. His views represent a significant portion of the American pro-Israel community and are surely representative of the Movement he has been selected to lead.

We worry when efforts are made to continuously narrow the definition of “support for Israel,” and we are concerned as well by those who claim that only those who agree with them on everything are fit to be called “pro-Israel.”

The pro-Israel community, like the Jewish community, is diverse and eclectic, representing a range of opinions and ideals. The last thing that we need is for people in this community to be excluding one another.

As past and present leaders of organizations with a broad range of constituents, we are no strangers to the diversity of viewpoints, approaches and styles that make up the organized community, and the American Jewish community. Our experiences working with Jews of different backgrounds and viewpoints has taught us the importance of unifying behind issues of great importance to Israel even when disagreements over nuance and positions existed. When we can all find common ground to stand on, our voices together are all the more powerful.

We look forward to working with Rabbi Jacobs as he prepares to lead the Union for Reform Judaism into the future, and we hope that communal leaders will commit themselves to respect the diversity of opinions that make our community so strong.

Harold Tanner
Former Chairman
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations

Seymour Reich
Former Chairman
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations

John Shapiro
Former President
UJA-Federation of New York

Susie K. Stern
Former Chair of the Board
UJA-Federation of New York

Howard Berkowitz

Rabbi Steve Gutow
President and CEO
Jewish Council for Public Affairs

Marie Abrams
Past Chair
Jewish Council for Public Affairs

Rabbi Julie Schonfeld
Executive Vice President
Rabbinical Assembly

Rabbi Steven Wernick
Executive Vice President and CEO
United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism

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  1. Gordon Silverman says

    I enthusiastically support the signatories to this letter of support for Rabbi Jacobs. Jewish leaders throughout the US should endorse it, both to show support for a courageous and forward-thinking man and to indicate the disdain that should be forthcoming from every sector of the community of the mendacious accusations that are being thrown at lovers of Israel, like Rabbi Jacobs, whose energies and thoughts are focused on recapturing the vision of the signers of Israel’s Declaration of Independence when they proclaimed the Jewish State to be a “light unto the nations”, dedicated to the causes of freedom and justice.

    It is time to stop hurling defamatory rhetoric and, rather, to put our efforts into becoming the “light” that Israel’s founders envisioned.

  2. William Bilek, M.D. says

    Israel’s founders, and Israel’s Declaration of Independence focused on the people of the State of Israel. There was friction even then, between the Reform Movement in America, which balked at the thought of Jewish sovereignty and statehood. It took the Ben-Gurion – Blaustein Agreement to at least largely solidify Reform’s support for the Jewish state (with caveats). It took the establishment of The Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, in 1955, to determine objectives and then present a united front to the administration. The underlying assumption was that notwithstanding debate within the community, American Jewry stood behind Israel’s security needs and was urging that Washington do so as well.

    It was clear that presenting such a united front to the Administration was essential, if we were to prevent those who wished the Jewish people ill from diverting Administration support from Israel by claiming, that “even the Jews don’t know what they want”. The ascension of J-Street, and the election of its Rabbi Jacobs, threatens to unravel the consensus that Jews in the Diaspora must support the security policies of the people and their elected representatives of the State of Israel, or, at the very least, remain silent. Taking part in anti-Israel demonstrations in Sheikh Jarrah is not representative of the mindset of the broad Jewish community, and does not contribute to our unity.

  3. Professor Alexander Maller says

    I disagree with Rabbi Jacobs positions and selection. His positions will alienate large portions of our public in the US. Worse, it will show the Israeli public, the vast majority supporting the government and opposed to the extremist left wing propaganda, that again the Reform Movement does not understand Israel and the Middle East reality. Again the Reform Movement will lose the opportunity to provide a constructive religious alternative to the non-observant Israeli public. Eisendrath was wrong and the CCAR 1999 Statement contravenes the tenants of our faith and is a stain on our history. More important, I find the selection process of the President as unsuitable for a open minded, congregational oriented movement such as The Reform Movement. The process of closed doors, “good old boys” agreements and selections is wrong. It has to be changed and the voice of the Reform public must be heard.